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Filmmaker Richard Curtis on the potential of the activist era

18 June 2021

Richard Curtis is the man behind many of our most-loved romcoms, from Four Weddings and a Funeral to Notting Hill, Love Actually and Mamma Mia – he has enthralled the nation with his tales of love and life for over three decades. But he is so much more than the man who turned Hugh Grant into a heartthrob.

As the co-founder of Comic Relief and Make Poverty History and organiser of Live 8 concerts he is also a dedicated campaigner. He spoke to Change Makers’ host Michael Hayman about the power individuals have to instigate change and why business must be a force for good.


The era of the power of individuals


I think we are living in the ‘what can I actually do in my own life? era’. People are thinking, ‘this is the place I’m working, is that doing OK on diversity? How am I behaving with regard to gender equality? What am I doing for the climate? How can I apply extra pressure? It’s all about being an activist yourself – actually getting out and doing things.


Inspired by a TEDtalk by Bronwyn King, a cancer doctor who found out her pension was invested in the cigarette industry, Richard recently co-founded Make My Money Matter, a campaign aimed at encouraging people to move their pensions into sustainable investments. “Your pension is probably the biggest weapon in your armoury,” he says. “If you move it into a sustainable pension, it will be supportive of all the businesses, and all the things that you really believe in.”

You may only be one person, but you can create change, he argues. “I was pathetically unsuitable for any kind of influence – I was a minor sitcom writer when we started Comic Relief, but I opened that door. When you do that, suddenly all the powerful people join in with your good intentions. So, if you try and do something, you’ll find that it’s not you on your own.”


The role of business

Business certainly has its role to play too. “The Secretary General told me that business has done better than government on the Sustainable Development Goals. I think a huge number of business leaders are realising that for every reason, they should use their amazing power and they suddenly become the necessary heroes of our planet.”

“Not only do they help create jobs and reinforce economies, but actually, if they improve their products, they may well sell more then because there is a consumer revolution going on. If they want the best people working for them, people want to work for companies with high moral actions.”


Just do it

Richard’s message to people is not to listen to the naysayers – if they want to take action to bring positive change, just do it. “Don’t be too distracted by those people who don’t go along with you. If you think I’ve got to convince everyone, you will become discouraged. But if you’re intelligent and working really hard on spotting who your allies are – that makes a difference.

“The thing about people who are trying to build and change things is they have more ideas, and they create more new things. Therefore, they have more power than those people who sit back and say, ‘no I won’t bother, we won’t get anywhere.’”


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